Ssempijja’s hotel success story

Sunday March 15 2020

Magnificent. Sempijja in front of his hotel.

Magnificent. Sempijja in front of his hotel. PHOTO BY BRIAN MUGENY. 

By Brian Mugeny

Jamil Ssempijja’s father, Badru Lukyamuzi was a trader, so Ssempijja too started a small shop in Masaka Town. But this was just a starting point for what he really wanted, a hotel.

How he started
Ssempijja later ventured in distributing hospital items such as sundries in the late 1990s.
“By nature, I am a hands on man. I always love it when I wake up early and do something new with my hands,” says Ssempijja as we traverse Maple Leaf Hotel, which is now the talk of the town in Masaka.
Looking at a wholly tempered and insulating safety curtain wall glass assembled hotel with in-built music system and ambient indoor lightening, it is hard to believe that Ssempijja, owns this facility.

But because he was once in construction, Ssempijja knows it that for such a structure to suceed on its own all he needed was enough capital which he worked for as he explains. “As for construction, I worked so hard to make it count. I enrolled for schools facilitation grant under Selco Enterprises and later I decided to venture in constructing schools within Masaka Town and that’s how I saved for this hotel,” Ssempijja shares beaming with pride while pointing at Maple Leaf Hotel which he opened earlier in November last year. The Shs6b hotel today employs 27 workers.
Among the schools, Ssempijja constructed to collect enough capital include; Bwala Primary School, Hill Road Primary School, Kiwala Primary School and Butenga Primary School.
“I kept on engaging other projects such as distributing Pepsi products within Masaka but more importantly, I have learnt that to do any business you have to first fall in love with it,” he shares.

It was in 2003, when Ssempijja became the distributor of Pepsi products in Masaka and here he faced a lot of competition from other brands but he kept on going because his major motive was to save every penny he could get.
“I love competition but I don’t compete with anyone. Every day I compete with myself and that’s why even if my hotel is surrounded by other hotels, we are all making money,” he noted.

Ssempijja is one man who has had to juggle loads of businesses for him to make his hotel business dream count. “While in this business I was able to secure a holiday package to United States, Thailand, Holland and Dubai and while there I got two ideas; starting a school or a hotel since I had saved some money to start with,” he says. “In 2003, Celtel (currently Airtel) came in. Idid not know much about it but I went on to become its distributor and from there we managed to increase our capital because deep in my heart I knew I had to own a business,” he shares.
By then, as a Celtel distributor it was very hard for Ssempijja to make Shs3m per day because of stiff competition with other telecom companies but with the help of engineer Polly Kiwanuka and Bernard Atukwase, Ssempijja kept on going.
“I felt the pressure back then because all I wanted was my personal business. I’ve always loved to own my businesses because you’re the boss of your own,” he says.

Making money:  Jamil Sempijja explains how he
Making money: Jamil Sempijja explains how he started his business. The hotel which opened last year in November attracts several clients including Rotarian, tourists and district function. PHOTO BY BRIAN MUGENY.


Turning point
With the school idea still lingering in his notices, Ssempijja later resolved to let go of constructing the school after realizing the pressure that may occur and built Maple Leaf Hotel which today settles with 27 rooms.
According to him, its three conference rooms accommodate; 250, 150 and 40 people respectively depending on the sitting arrangements. They normally charge Shs800,000, Shs400,000 and Shs300,000 respectively per day.

“The problem with the school is that you face a lot of pressure from the parents, students and teachers themselves that’s why I went for a hotel instead,” he says.
Ssempijja narrates that Masaka Town has a number of hotels but their standards have always been lacking and when he went to Malaysia and visited the Twin Towers also the third tallest building in the world. He decided to replicate the idea.
He says the whole structure was built by engineer Charles Ssejemba and Mbogo Kasibante designed most of the hotel furniture.
“In Europe it is not about money. What counts for people are those things that satisfy them and a good building with first-class services counts much which we also consider at the hotel,” Ssempijja who is running the hotel business with his son Moses Mutagubya says.

The strategic location of the place; Masaka – Kampala Highway also was a driving factor that gave him a reason to believe.
“I bought this land in 2008 and initially there was a house before we started constructing the hotel,” he adds.
For the hotel to come to completition, Ssempijja had to toil for five years in order to realize such a multi-billion project.
“I’ve felt a lot of pressure from the public because they wanted the hotel to open immediately. Many including my friends started joking that if I didnt open they would open it themselves,” says Ssempijja as he guides us around the hotel to showcase some of the unique features inside the hotel rooms. These are classified into three segments; executive, single and double rooms.

“The whole structure is unique in and outside the hotel. Most of the material we used was made by our own people here but some people still don’t believe that,” he shares.
Ssempijja says he prefers local staff and that when he tried to employ foreigners to make some furniture for the hotel, he was totally disappointed.
“I think it is always good to employ local people. That alone brings you closer to your target customers,” added Ssempijja.

Why Maple Leaf?
“It is a symbol of determination, change, unity and patience and if you don’t possess those four elements you can’t erect such a building,” he shares.

Early life
Ssempijja was born at Ninzi Village in Kasaali Sub-county, Kyotera District.
He attended Kiyimba Primary School, Kirembwe Primary School, Kakoma Secondary School and Kampala High School before going to Nkumba University where he earned a Higher Diploma in Business Administration.

Sempijja says in the beginning, they faced a challenge of unstable electricity because they opened without a stand by generator.
“Electricity supply is unpredictable so it puzzled me a lot and of course the workers. Most of them were new in the system,” he recollects.

How to start a hotel business

The hotel business is another lucrative business that is currently booming in the country. The tourism industry in Uganda is currently growing by leaps and bound. A sure fire way to get your own slice of this juicy pie is to venture into the hotel business.

Human resource:  Hotel investors are advised to
Human resource: Hotel investors are advised to recriut top notch chefs to attract customers. FILE PHOTO

Applying good management and keen attention to the points below, will definitely lead you success in this business. A commercial establishment that provides lodging meals and other guest services can be called a hotel. It should also have at least six rooms with a minimum of three of them en suite i.e. with private bathroom and toilet facilities. Hotels can be rated from one star to five star, depending on the services they render.
Now that we have a clear idea of what a hotel is all about, we can now proceed to discussing how to start a hotel business.

Joining a franchise
A good way of starting your hotel is by going in under a hotel chain. For example, The Hilton, Sheraton, Ritz-Calton, Protea are well known popular brands. Starting a hotel under any of these franchises will most likely guarantee success because customers will be attracted to them due to their long track record. However this route is capital intensive. This is because you will be required to meet and maintain their high standards. This option is best suited for those who have huge financial budget.

Starting under your brand name
The option most suitable for medium or small scale entrepreneurs is to start under your own brand. In this case, you have the freedom to set up your hotel business according to your own taste, scale and as your finances can manage.

Suitable location
The success of your hotel business is highly dependent on the location where it is situated.
Always have it in mind that the location will have a huge impact on the volume and type of customers that will patronise your business.
The scale and class of your hotel will in a long way affect where you intend to locate it.
For example, if you intend to set up a low or medium class hotel, it should be located in busy places such as areas surrounding travel terminals. But if your intention is to set up a high end hotel business then you might consider locating it in a more serene environment for high end customers.

Get registered
As with any other legitimate business, it is imperative that you register your business with the relevant government agencies.

Set up your structure
After completing your location selection and registration, you can then proceed to put some structures on ground. One of the most important selling points of a hotel business is the quality of the structures that is put on ground. Customers will easily pay good money for a well-furnished and well finished accommodation. In as much as you need to work within your budget, it is important that you make sure the structure is of a good quality to attract large number of customers. Pay close attention to the finishing such as furniture, beddings, and other aesthetics.
Also ensure that the exterior of your hotel is painted in bright and exciting colours.
As usual you need to make provision for a generator to cater for the epileptic nature of power supply. It will be a huge let down to your business if your guests are left without power. You will also need to make sure you have constant water supply in your hotel. If the tap water is not available you will need to sink a borehole.

Hire and train your staff
For a start, you will need to hire the staff that are essential for the running of the hotel. You will need at least a receptionist, security guard, laundry men, bar attendants and porters.

A key way of ensuring your success in this business is advertising. It is of no use to put up a good structure, hire staff and doing your registration without attracting the all-important customers. Do not get tired of advertising your services. You can actually start off by offering discounts to new customers. This will attract them to try out your services.

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